- 15 Oct 21
Donegal fiddler Damien McGeehan plots a sprawling landscape of musical influences from trad to Senegalese kora music on his second solo album, Kin. Rooted in the melodies of Irish music, the project takes the listener on a journey of musical fluidity. Photo: Danny Diamond.
Damien McGeehan glides between and blends a number of genres on his sophomore album, Kin. At one moment he plays a traditional Highland tune before pivoting to Richard Thompson’s ‘Strange Affair.’ A jazz number influenced by the streets of New Orleans follows. It’s an undeniably eclectic album that grows in energy as it progresses.
Opening with ‘An Chéad Chatlann’, the listener is immediately thrust into a tense soundscape of bluesy guitar, jazz accompaniment and trad melodies. McGeehan’s fiddle playing is fluid as he bridges the gap between each genre with his superb instrumentation. The track swells in intensity before an upbeat rhythm guitar is introduced. It develops the piece along with rock-imbued drums underneath the beautiful reel played on fiddle and flute. The track continues to grow as it pulls more jazz drums into the mix and we move into the second reel before the sudden, dramatic conclusion.
‘Dúlamán na Binne Búidhe’ follows, and McGeehan is joined by his sister Michelle on fiddle and rockabilly guitarist Darrel Higham. McGeehan shows fantastic bow work as he delivers each crystal clear note with poise before plucking the strings pizzicato to show his deft musical hand. This track thrives off of the stomping rhythm laid down in the percussion. Higham gives the track some edge with his rumbling chords and attitude-laden solo in the middle of the piece.
The world music maestro gives his take on Richard Thompson’s ‘Strange Affair’ with Shauna Mullin providing pitch-perfect vocals. Mullin’s performance is brilliant and she almost tricks the listener into thinking this is her song. Her gorgeous vocals are enhanced by the use of her undiluted Irish accent that gives the track an authentic folk feel. This injects more meaning into the already emotional tune. McGeehan shows his experience as a session musician here as Mullin’s vocals are the focus as the music accompanies her singing instead of taking over.
‘Runnin’ on Bourbon’ was inspired by McGeehan’s time on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, revelling in the sounds and atmosphere of the birthplace of jazz. The vibrancy of that setting is captured perfectly here. The samba style percussion underneath the sparse jazz trumpet depicts a busy, bustling street as McGeehan uses his energetic fiddle playing to paint himself in the centre of the scene. The contrast of the trad fiddle and the jazz influences is not only most evident on this track, it is also a shining example of how to connect the instruments.
On ‘The Girl & The Lass,’ the track opens with a childlike lullaby before morphing into a sauntering slip-jig played by McGeehan on the octave fiddle. The musician's instrumentation is front and centre here. He effortlessly meanders through the tune adding sparkling embellishments like grace notes and trills as he goes. The texture of the track richens as a double bass and a fiddle come in to develop it.
‘Errity’s Jigs’ is a set of tunes composed by McGeehan in honour of his late uncle, John Errity. McGeehan cuts his bow hand loose on three jigs; ‘Worskey’s’, ‘The Flying Lure’ and ‘Errity’s Jig.’ Of all the trad soundscapes on the album, this facet is the most traditional. With fantastic tone and notation, the performer flies around the fiddle neck to allow the self-crafted melodies to blossom.
Tom Waits’ ‘The Briar And The Rose’ from his 1993 album The Black Rider helps the album wind down with Shauna Mullin providing more smooth and warm vocals. Mullin's soft delivery is a far cry from the rasping, growling voice of the great Tom Waits. The gentle yet powerful performance perfectly accentuates the music beneath her. Soaring strings and a finger-plucked guitar undercut the melancholy melody as McGeehan once again demonstrates his fantastic ability to arrange accompaniment for a singer.
Kin combines McGeehan’s track record as a session musician with his time as one third of Donegal fiddling trio ‘Fidil’ and his experiences as a touring artist. It makes for a diverse record that is cinematic and elegant. Trad fusions are nothing new, but few can seamlessly blend so many different genres together at once whilst each remains distinct like McGeehan does on this record. This is what makes Kin such a unique and compelling record.
Listen: ‘Runnin’ on Bourbon.’
Stream Kin below.